When a journey comes to an end, it takes awhile for me to develop a final conclusion on the experience. I’m back in the States, exhausted, weary and burnt out. My heart feels heavy. There are so many things in the U.S. I have and appreciate: my loved ones, my bed, a huge bowl of Lucky Charms, a long shower. I’m excited to be able to wear whatever I want again, and to be able to communicate easily with others in English.
But during the course of my journey, I left pieces of my heart behind. When I said goodbye to my host family, I cried. Hugging my mom, Lina, for the last time was so difficult. I knew this family for a month, and in that month I became their sister and daughter. I’m going to miss the late nights, sitting outside smoking sheeshaw while we laugh at each other and watch the small zoo parade around the yard. They made Jordan my home, and helped me fall in love with their country.
Reading through my first blog post, I can’t believe how far I have come in my understanding of Jordan and the Middle East. I knew nothing about Jordan, excluding a few quick facts from Wikipedia. And now I feel like it is where I need to be. I really did fall in love with the people there, and I hearing their stories changed me, and I’d like to think for the better.
This month in Jordan has been one of the most difficult and exhilarating experiences I’ve had in my 22 years. Being a young, female journalist in the Middle East pushed me to grow into the professional I need to be. My stories took me everywhere, to ministries, churches, universities, a refugee camp. One week I found myself in the most impoverished neighborhood I have ever seen, and the next I was shaking hands with the prince. I spoke to the poor, I spoke to the rich. I spoke to the angry, I spoke to the hopeful. And in it all, I stayed true to myself and my integrity. I put my heart into my stories, and I was rewarded with a rich understanding of Jordan’s culture.
I also found strength in myself, both personally and as a journalist, that I didn’t know I had. On the way to the Amman airport, I told my professor Carlene about my experience here. I told her there were days and moments when I would ask myself, “What am I doing here? How on earth did I possibly think I, Sam from Minnesota, could do something as extraordinary as this?” In those moments of weakness, I would feel such despair, anxiety and frustration. But I always survived, and I like to think I thrived. I problem-solved, found a different approach or simply started over. I was always able to overcome and power through, whether it was powering through exhaustion, hunger, dehydration, illness, the language barrier, people not calling back, getting lost or meeting impossible deadlines. How I did it? I’ll never really know, but I discovered a little spunk in me that was previously MIA.
With this, I’d like to say goodbye. Not forever, but for this chapter. If and when I go back, I will be a new person. I can never go back in the same circumstances and in the same point in life that I’m in now. But I do want to return. To report, to live and to continue to grow. The Middle East deserves good journalists to cover its complexities. It needs journalists committed to finding and sharing the stories of real people.
I like to think I could maybe be one of those journalists.
Take care Jordan, until next time,
Hello, folks. It’s been a full week of reporting since I’ve gotten back from my short break in Dana, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. Busy, busy, busy! I have less than 24 hours left in Jordan, and yet so much to do. It’ll be another full work day!
On a high note, yesterday our class was granted an audience with Prince Hassan bin Talal, brother to the late King Hussein, uncle to the current King Abdullah the II of Jordan and the ex-Crown prince. For a few hours we were able to ask him questions about anything and everything we’ve learned about Jordan: Syria, the Isreali-Palestinian conflict, the influx of refugees, education, you name it.
After he spoke with all of us, my awesome professor Carlene was able to snag me a few minutes of one-on-one time so I could ask him some questions pertaining to my story. I suppose this is the high point of my journalism career, eh?
A few nights ago Melissa and I got to tag along with our host brother, Sultan (a.k.a. Cookie). Our host father is a wedding planner, and our two host brothers DJ at the wedding parties. Sultan is a goofball at our homestay, so it was fun to see him in his element. It was also fun to see some traditional dances at the reception. Sultan made sure Melissa and I were aware that the wedding party was not Jordanian; they were Chechens, or Russian Muslims. At one point the bride and groom were dancing around the tables, being escorted by a guy (who looked vaguely like a pirate) who was pounding a drum and leaping through the air.
The closer it gets to departure, the more I regret only coming for a month. There is so much more to do, and so much more to see. I’m really going to miss this place, and it’s hard not knowing when/if I will come back. I wish I had more time to spend with my family here, to go on trips and shopping excursions and to crash more weddings. I wish there was time to make more memories in this country. The memories I have will just have to keep me going, until I can return.
This past week was a time to put aside reporting and soak in Jordan in its full power. All of us students and faculty zipped around in our big yellow bus, getting to see some of Jordan’s most well-known places and sights.
I explored the halls and dark rooms of Karak Castle before jumping back on the bus and going to Dana, Jordan’s largest nature reserve. Here we camped out in the desert, climbing rocks until the sun went down and drinking tea around a campfire. The next morning we left for Petra, an ancient city carved into the rocks. A group of fellow Northeasterners and I climbed the 1,000 steps to the top. Upon our victorious arrival, I tried to enjoy the view and was able to somewhat resist melting into puddle of uselessness. Petra is beautiful; you have to see it to truly understand.
We then made a quick stop at a special needs center before going to Wadi Rum. Here we whipped it across the desert in jeeps, making it to rock outcroppings to enjoy the sunset. That night I danced liked a Bedouin, went star-tripping on the mud flats and pulled my bed out of the tent to sleep under the stars. In the morning I went on a pre-breakfast camel ride in the desert, enjoying the last bit of desert serenity before getting back on the bus.
The trip ended with a day in Aqaba, tourist central. We went out in boats and spent the afternoon in the water, snorkeling and grilling. It was so good to be in the sun and to swim in the clear, blue water of the Red Sea.
It was an excellent break from the stresses of reporting, and I momentarily feel rejuvenated and ready to finish the trip strong. I wish we could have spent a week at each stop, but there’s simply no time. It’s sad to think that I only have four days left in this amazing place. The time has gone by faster than I would have liked, and I’m starting to realize how hard it will be to leave. No matter: Right now, I need to focus on finishing my stories.
Rana Sabbagh, an investigative reporter, spoke to our class today. It was really interesting to hear her speak about her experience as a journalist. During the Q and A portion of her visit, I asked her what it was like to be a female reporter in the Middle East, a place where women aren’t given the same respect as their male counterparts. I just wanted to know, especially from someone who has reported here for so long (about 28 years if I remember correctly).
Her answer was interesting, and addressed many of the things I’ve experienced in my short journalism career. In some ways, being a woman in the Middle East is a bonus: Guys want to impress you and treat you well. But at the same time, sometimes it is frustrating to get special treatment. For example, Rana said that she would be allowed to the front of the line because she was a woman, even if she insisted that as a press member she needed to wait.
Rana also said that being a female reporter is extremely difficult and tiring. Sexual harassment is a semi-constant companion, and yet you have to deal with it in a professional manner. If a blonde, female journalist was to freak out every time a man bssbsss’ed at her (the Jordanian cat-call), she’d have no time to report. Female reporters need to develop thick skins to do what they do, and some women aren’t cut out for it. Rana said she would frequently dress in baggy clothes, wear no make-up and whip her hair into a ponytail to try and avoid some of the harassment.
So much of this resonates with me and what I’ve been experiencing here. It is a weird feeling to describe, feeling a little insulted because someone treats you better because of the way you look rather than for your professional abilities. It makes me question my ability as a reporter, wondering if I actually suck at this but people still talk to me because I’m an American woman.
And yet, trying to dress like a man to avoid attention seems wrong. Can I really take pride in being a female reporter if all I do is try to act like a man? I don’t think so. I want my confidence to come from who I am as a person, not in how good I can pretend to be something I’m not.
And frankly, I’m a woman.
Let’s burn some bras.
Not really. It just makes me think about who I am and who I want to be, both as a reporter and as Sam.